Hygge (hue-guh) is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.
We are not paying taxes, we are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life. The key to understanding the high levels of well-being in Denmark is the welfare model’s ability to reduce risk, uncertainty, and anxiety among its citizens and to prevent extreme unhappiness.
The rule of thumb is: the lower the temperature of the light, the more hygge. A camera flash is around 5,500 Kelvin (K), fluorescent tubes are 5,000K, incandescent lamps 3,000K, while sunsets and wood and candle flames are about 1,800K. That is your hygge sweet spot.
Hygge is the antidote to the cold winter, the rainy days, and the duvet of darkness. So while you can have hygge all year round, it is during winter that it becomes not only a necessity but a survival strategy.
THE HYGGE MANIFESTO
1. ATMOSPHERE Turn down the lights.
2. PRESENCE Be here now. Turn off the phones.
3. PLEASURE Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
4. EQUALITY “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
5. GRATITUDE Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
6. HARMONY It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
7. COMFORT Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
8. TRUCE No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
9. TOGETHERNESS Build relationships and narratives. “Remember the time we …? ”
10. SHELTER This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.
As a manager, I avoid scheduling meetings that would end after four if I have parents on my team, so they can pick up their kids at the usual time.
Hygge is also a situation where there is a lot of relaxed thoughtfulness. Nobody takes center stage or dominates the conversation for long stretches of time. Equality is an important element in hygge—a trait that is deeply rooted in the Danish culture—and also manifests itself in the fact that everybody takes part in the chores of the hyggelig evening. It is more hyggeligt if we all help to prepare food, instead of having the host alone in the kitchen. Time spent with others creates an atmosphere that is warm, relaxed, friendly, down-to-earth, close, comfortable, snug, and welcoming. In many ways, it is like a good hug, but without the physical contact. It is in this situation that you can be completely relaxed and yourself. The art of hygge is therefore also the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people.
Almost 60 percent of Danes say the best number of people for hygge is three to four.
Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break. Relax. Just for a little while. It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be okay.
Hygge is charged with a strong orientation and commitment toward experiencing and savoring the present moment.
Hygge is humble and slow. It is choosing rustic over new, simple over posh and ambience over excitement. In many ways, hygge might be the Danish cousin to slow and simple living.
Every year, my friend Martin organizes the mother of board games: a game of Axis & Allies. Set in World War II, it is essentially a complex version of the game Risk. The game usually lasts for about fourteen hours,
There’ll be classical music on—mostly Wagner and Beethoven—and smoke from cigars fills the room, so you can barely see our group of grown men in uniforms.
Remember my friend who commented that the only way our time in the cabin could be more hyggelig was if a storm broke outside? This is hygge. The more it sets the here and now apart from the tough realities of the outside world, the more valuable it becomes.
Universal and free health care, free university education, and relatively generous unemployment benefits go a long way toward reducing unhappiness. This has particular significance for those who are less well off, a segment of society who is happier in Denmark than in other wealthy countries.
There is a high level of trust in Denmark (notice all the strollers parked outside cafés when the parents are inside, drinking coffee). There is a high level of freedom (Danes report really high levels in terms of feeling in control over their lives), of wealth and good governance, and a well-functioning civil society.
One of the reasons for the high level of happiness in Denmark is the good work–life balance, which allows people to make time for family and friends.